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What is the Central Intelligence Agency?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is an intelligence gathering agency located in the United States of America. The CIA is the first source for a variety of American intelligence. Agents of the organization work all over the world to monitor situations of interest to the United States Government, from political unrest to environmental hazards. The CIA is an independent agency, not affiliated with any other American intelligence agency, with a Director who reports directly to the President.

Slight changes in the organization of the CIA occurred after passage of the USA Patriot Act in 2001, which mandated reorganization of American intelligence gathering to allow greater inter-agency cooperation. Under the Patriot Act, the Director of the CIA reports to a national Director of Intelligence, to facilitate communication between intelligence agencies and promote the free exchange of information between them.

The CIA often works in conjunction with other intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and others. The CIA is considered the foremost international intelligence gathering agency, coordinating efforts between agents all over the globe. The CIA is not responsible for internal American security, although it may provide information to other agencies to increase domestic security.

The CIA was founded in 1947 by President Harry Truman, who signed the National Security Act. The CIA initially begun as the Berlin Operations Base, or BOB, during the Second World War. The BOB coordinated European intelligence efforts and reported the information to the United States and other Allied powers. At the end of the war, the BOB became the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which later morphed into the CIA.

According to the CIA's mission statement, the agency gathers intelligence and takes action in an effort to preserve the security and values of the United States. In addition to collecting intelligence, the CIA participates in covert actions all over the world. The CIA has been linked with several questionable political actions, including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the coup in Iran, and the rapid destabilization of several South American countries.

After the terrorist attacks on the United States n 2001, the role of the CIA changed dramatically. The Agency had fallen into disorganization after the end of the Cold War, and faced major policy changes in the twenty first century. These changes began with making significant alterations in staffing, Agency policies, and the legislation which governed intelligence gathering in the United States. The Executive and Legislative branches of government hoped that this would build a stronger, more flexible, and more effective agency, better able to meet the challenges faced by the United States.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By jessiwan — On Oct 29, 2013

How to spot an FBI/CIA/CSIS agent in an online community:

1. They have a tendency to imitate/mirror you. This is particularly true when they try to get close to you or try to befriend you. If you find your posting style/diction/sentence structure/sentiments reflected frequently in someone's posts, and you are reasonably sure it's not just some kid looking up to you and who is trying to emulate you, chances are, this poster is a fed. This is especially true if he is highly intelligent.

2. Feds' posts are characterized by lots of style and smarts, but no substance or soul. If a poster is highly intelligent and eloquent even, however his posts do not "move" you, chances are, he's a fed.

3. Feds seem to be biologically incapable of endearing themselves to other, normal people like you and me. If there is a poster who's highly intelligent, however he behaves in a way that just "grates" you in ways you can't quite put your finger on, chances are, he's a fed.

4. Feds are incredibly vulnerable to the Socratic method. They might say something designed to appeal to your sensibilities, however if you press them to expound on it, they either go silent, or try to answer, although almost always in a very unsatisfactory way that gives them away.

5. This is minor, but my observation is that feds tend to be sexually uninhibited or unrestrained in a very unattractive way. They talk about sex more often and more explicitly, in a way that's very off-putting.

6. Feds ingratiate themselves with you, in a shameless and very un-subtle way, to the point of being slightly sickening.

7. Feds do not know how to conduct themselves in positions of power (say, if they are the moderator of a forum). They have a tendency to abuse their authority. I still don't know why they behave in such a brazen manner. Is it because they are so sure of the absolute power they hold over you, or is it because they suffer from a biologically rooted inability to tell appropriate conduct from the inappropriate? Who knows?

Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy my little guide.

By submariner — On Jul 29, 2010

@ FrameMaker- The investigation also spoke of the status that is associated with national security. Money is being spent on security and protection of individuals who never had security details before. Firms are buying unnecessary weapons, armored vehicles, and secure buildings more for status than for purposeful reasons. The worst part is it is all on the taxpayer’s dime.

By FrameMaker — On Jul 29, 2010

@ Cougars- I read that same report. I was shocked to read that there were over 3000 public and private sector agencies working on intelligence in over 10,000 offices across the country. I was also shocked to read that every day, the NSA intercepts and files more than one and a half billion domestic emails, telephone communications, and texts.

The most insane part of it all is the fact that this intelligence did not stop any of the recently publicized terrorism attempts. Tee shirt vendors, observant passengers thwarted these attempts and some were never stopped at all (fort hood shooter). You have to wonder if these agencies are spending the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of publicized and unpublicized funding they receive every year wisely. The intelligence community is disorganized and clumsy. It collects too much information, making it harder to find the relevant information that can save lives.

By cougars — On Jul 29, 2010

After the September 11 bombings and passage of the patriot act there were significant changes made to the way the intelligence community operates, whether these changes were for better or worse is still a debatable issue. A recent investigation by the Washington Post looked at the changes made to the intelligence community and its impact on Americans.

To be honest, the findings are shocking, and a little disturbing. They paint a picture of an entire segment of America dedicated to collecting information. The investigation exposed the money, labor, secrecy, and massive amounts of data involved in this new section of the American economy. The lines between intelligence and industry have become so blurred that it may rival the military industrial complex. Waste and overlap are rampant, and transparency is almost non-existent.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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